After 28 years of starts and stops and discarded development plans, the city moved a step closer Monday to construction next year of a $319-million World Trade Center on 13 acres west of the Civic Center.
But, even as the city's Harbor Commission tentatively approved a lease for the land with trade center developers, commissioners asked if the uncertain future of a proposed Los Angeles-Long Beach trolley line might delay construction.
One of four possible routes for the proposed light-rail line intersects the trade center site south of Broadway and west of Magnolia Avenue. The City Council is expected to choose its favored route March 19, with the county Transportation Commission deciding March 27 where the trolley line will run if it is built at all.
Possible Compton Suit
Complicating that situation, however, are threats from the City of Compton to go to court to stop the trolley if the county decides not to lower the track below street level through that city.
"How do we protect ourselves against (this)?" asked Jim Gray, Harbor Commission president. "My concern is that somebody completely removed from this project (will have) a marvelous idea that messes up the project."
Michael Choppin, whose Long Beach-based IDM Corporation is developing the center with Kajima International Inc., said he has monitored disputes about the trolley line and concluded that "at the worst, it will be an inconvenience."
Whatever happens with the trolley will not delay construction of the massive 2.2-million-square-foot trade center, which is scheduled to be built in four phases over a minimum of five years beginning in January. Provisions in the lease allow for delays because of escalating prime interest rates and other factors.
The 66-year lease of port land, which is scheduled for final Harbor Commission approval next Monday, allows IDM/Kajima to defer base rent payments of $3.6 million a year to the port until trade center offices are 75% occupied and a 600-room hotel has 65% occupancy.
The port also will receive so-called "participation rent" amounting to 20% of the money made from renting the buildings the developers will construct.
IDM/Kajima has the option of buying the entire site at market value during the 11th year of the lease.
The trade center, which would be the largest private development in the city's history, would include three office towers, a luxury hotel, a large federal office building, restaurants and shops.
Located in the western downtown area, the center would house trade-related businesses such as customs brokers, international trading companies, ship agents, maritime attorneys and multinational banks.
Many of the prospective tenants already have offices in the Long Beach and Los Angeles harbor areas.
Unlike those who have forwarded trade center proposals in the past, Choppin's IDM and Kajima have proven track records. IDM, a large land developer locally, was one of the first to build in Long Beach's downtown redevelopment area, completing a $15-million office building on Ocean Boulevard in 1983. Kajima is a subsidiary of one of Japan's largest construction firms.
IDM and Kajima agreed to team up in 1983 after several firms showed interest in the trade center site.
The Port of Long Beach has spent about $24 million clearing 65 structures and about 1,300 residents from the site. Owners of five of 51 parcels still are disputing port appraisals, but eminent domain proceedings will allow construction regardless of whether those disputes are settled by next January, said port planner Lee Hill.